The average American eats about 152 pounds of sugar a year.
In fact sugar hits same receptors in brain as heroin.
Don’t believe me? In a study, scientists found that a high-sugar milkshake spiked blood sugar levels, insulin production, and the sugar craving centers in the brain. In a brain scan, the sugar lit up the addiction center like a Christmas tree on Christmas eve.
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We have become addicted to refined sugars such as fructose, glucose, dextrose, sucrose (white sugar aka granulated sugar) and the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup. (HFCS). HFCS is a nasty life sucker found in processed foods and sodas. It’s harmful because our bodies convert it into fat very rapidly, which leaves us with muffin tops, and jiggly arms. High fructose corn syrup is a man-made food product as far from Mother Nature as possible.
Have you ever seen or heard of a high fructose corn syrup tree? Neither have I. You’ll typically find HFCS lurking in packaged and baked goods.
The Difference Between Glucose and Fructose
You may be wondering about the difference between glucose and fructose. These are the two most popular added sugars that you’ll see on food labels. Although fructose occurs naturally in fruit since it’s combined with fiber it’s more slowly absorbed in your body. The fiber in fruits provides benefits like feeding your healthy gut bacteria. So don’t avoid fruit!
The major difference between glucose and fructose is that glucose can be metabolized by every cell in our body but fructose can only be metabolized by the liver. Fructose converts directly into fat in your body. This becomes problematic when it doesn’t register in your body that you’ve had anything to eat so you’re usually not satisfied and still hungry. It also makes you more insulin resistant [a condition where your cells fail to respond normally to the hormone insulin which regulates blood sugar] which can lead to diabetes, heart disease, obesity and digestive problems. Insulin resistance can also lead to brain inflammation which can impact your memory as you age.
Glucose on the other hand is required for your body, especially your brain. All the cells in your body use glucose for energy. Your brain runs on glucose which is a carbohydrate [the good kind]. Your brain ends up using the majority of glucose in your body for fuel. However most people are getting WAY more than they need. The average American consumes 82 grams of added sugar per day. A big contrast to the recommendation from the World Health Organization’s of 25 grams per day.
The best sources of glucose are:
Spring onions turnips, rutabagas, kiwis, beets, raw honey and onions. These foods provide the glucose that your brain and body needs while minimizing the total amount of sugar in your body.
Why is high fructose corn syrup bad?
High-fructose added sugars are even more harmful. When you see a product with high-fructose corn syrup (or even just the word “fructose”) on the ingredients label, put it back on the shelf and slowly walk away. Unfortunately, it’s hard to escape and fructose is just about everywhere. High-fructose corn syrup contains anywhere from 55 to 90 percent fructose.Yikes! Since it’s extremely cheap, food companies love it and often use it to replace regular sugar in processed foods.
What’s even more scary though is that agave, which is still enjoying a health halo, is one of the highest sources of fructose. It’s almost as bad as artificial sweeteners, which is the next worst thing to HFCS.
Some studies have found that fructose is associated with:
– Speeding up aging
– Increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s
– Causing obesity, which can lead to type 2 diabetes
– Having a negative impact on fertility
– Making it harder for your body to defend itself against illness or infections and increased risk of cancers of breast, ovaries, and prostate
Your Brain on Sugar
Research is starting to show that high blood sugar levels can have damaging effects on the brain especially as you age. The higher the amounts of sugar in your blood is the higher the risk of dementia. Sugar can also impact your mental health putting you at increased risk for depression and anxiety. This is because sugar messes with your body’s ability to produce serotonin, which can lead to depression.
People that are depressed have low levels of the hormone serotonin. 90% of serotonin is produced in your gut. If you have poor gut health due to eating too much sugar, you’ll run into issues with important gut functions like serotonin production in addition to digestion and immune cell formation. Also fluctuating blood sugar, especially when your blood sugar crashes, can trigger anxiety attacks.
How to Stop a Sugar Addiction
Okay now that I’ve probably scared the crap out of you, let’s move to the solution.
A great place to start to keep an eye on your sugar intake is to be mindful of a food’s glycemic index. The glycemic index is a BIG part of blood sugar stabilization and your energy levels. The glycemic index measures how quickly carbohydrates convert to sugar in your blood. The scale is from 0 – 100. Foods that score high on the glycemic index should be minimized because they promote higher insulin levels.
These are foods that score about 60 or higher. I talk more about the glycemic index and the tactics I used to beat my sugar addiction to lose 30lbs in my book Unbreakable, if you need more help beyond this post.
How to Change a Bad Habit
Most people focus on breaking bad habits when the focus should be replacing bad habits.
When conducting research on habit formation for this book, I learned of The Habit Loop from the best-selling book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. In The Power of Habit, Duhigg calls the habit-forming process the Habit Loop.
The loop consists of:
1| The cue – aka the trigger – the thing that triggers the habit, tells your brain it’s time to go into automatic mode and which habit to use.
2| The routine – exactly what it sounds like, the routine is the behavior itself or the action you take.
3| The reward – the benefit that you gain from the behavior and the thing that makes you want to repeat the habit [your why, the thing that motivates you to do the behavior].
So again, the focus should be on replacing bad habits.
This where protein and healthy fats come in.
Understanding this was key in helping me to lose 30lbs 5 years ago. Try to incorporate lean proteins like chicken, fish, poultry, dairy, and eggs. Fiber-rich legumes (beans, nuts, lentils) are also a great way to curb sugar cravings and keep your energy in check.
Some great examples of healthy fats are foods like nuts, seeds (chia, flax, hemp, sesame and pumpkin aka pepita), avocado and coconut oil [one of my fav snacks are these double chocolate avocado cookies]. All of these foods are lower on the glycemic index I mentioned earlier so they won’t spike your blood sugar as much, will keep your sugar addiction in check and will keep your energy stable throughout the day.
For more information on healthier sugar alternatives and natural sweeteners that have added health benefits, including weight loss and how to eat healthier without relying on willpower, grab a copy of my book Unbreakable!
What strategies will you try first to overcome your sugar addiction?